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The Taste of Country Cooking: 30th Anniversary Edition
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100 of 101 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
`The Taste of Country Cooking' by Edna Lewis, in its 30th anniversary edition, prefaced by editor extraordinare, Judith Jones, and introduced by Alice Waters, is one of our more important national culinary documents. The one thing one wants to be aware of is that contrary to its superficial similarities to important culinary reference works by Judith Jones collaborators, Julia Child and Diane Kennedy, this book is not a reference for `southern' cooking technique. Rather, it is much more a personal testament on how Ms. Lewis' family cooked in Freetown in the Virginia Piedmont, founded by her freed slave grandparents. It is much more similar to other personal works such as Elizabeth Coblentz' `The Amish Cook' or Sallie Ann Robinson's `Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way'. It is not the kind of anthropological work we see in the great `Honey from a Weed' by Patience Gray or `Lulu's Provincial Kitchen' by Richard Olney, since this is written from within this milieu.

I always find a great irony in the modern trend toward local, seasonal cuisines, since this approach is not new, but a rediscovery of the way people HAD to eat before modern preservation techniques and global food distribution systems. So, in this book, we see the Alice Waters approach, crafted 120 years before Chez Panisse in Virginia.

True to this spirit, the book is written by both season and by type of meal, starting with spring and working its way around the calendar through summer, autumn, and winter. Since all recipes are given within the context of a meal, we get a set of dishes which go together simply because they were based on the ingredients grown on their Freetown farms.

The fact which makes this book more of a culinary `source document' than a reference for ready-made recipes is the fact that all the recipes are written exactly as they were done fifty or more years ago with a coal stove and oven and few kitchen gadgets. Not only are the recipes done in the style of rural Virginia, many of the source materials are simply not available today or not readily suitable to a modern urban kitchen. The very first recipe, for example, calls for a forequarter of mutton, which I suspect you may have some trouble finding. I know I can find a lamb's shoulder at the local farmer's market, but true mutton, in 10 to 12 pound chunks, may be a bit hard to come by.

Even the bread making is done in a very countrified manner, using a sponge developed overnight, but without relying on wild yeasts, so it's a cross between the typical modern method and the European artisinal method, relying on a very large crock to develop the sponge.

Many of the ingredients are also literally gathered from the wild, with some literally being harvested but one step removed from road kill. One example is when a rabbit or quail falls victim to the plough, it is immediately dressed to hang and cure for dinner in a day or two.

Since this is a chronicle of an actual cuisine, it also has a lot more different types of preparations than you will find in a more conventional cookbook. It has recipes for all sorts of oatmeal, jams, coffee, iced tea, breads, and gravies. It even goes so far as to give an authentic recipe for separating hominy from field corn. Shades of `The Whole Earth Catalogue' and the hippie counterculture!

So, unlike Ms. Lewis' collaboration with Scott Peacock, `The Gift of Southern Cooking', this will not be in the running for the definitive work on `Southern Cooking'. Instead, it is much more important as a source for such a reference `for the rest of us'.

Overall, a very important cookbook for anyone interested in food in general.
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97 of 99 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
I've owned this book in one form or another since the book came out in the seventies. There were many people out there who were interested in moving away from can opener cookery, but were intimidated by the average 'hippie' cookbook. Mrs. Lewis, through her clear, excellent narrative and precise recipes, reminded many in the cities and suburbs of just how good fresh ingredients, prepared simply and with love, can elevate the eating experience to the sublime.
This is one of those special books combining two of my main reading interests: American history and cooking. Ms. Lewis has the book divided into chapters like meals; e.g. breakfasts, lunches and dinners, all occurring within the major season subheads. This makes perfect sense after you read the book and understand her emphasis on eating by the season. All Americans used to do this, but with modern transportation and food preservation, it doesn't exist anymore.
Over the past twenty-five years I think I've made just about every recipe in the book, and all of them can be recommended. I am a fan of Southern cooking and hers is certainly authentic.
That this book is still available is testament to its worth. It still makes for excellent reading and cooking, twenty-five years on.
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50 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
When I first started cooking I relied on recipes that had been in the family a long time; as I started branching out and trying new recipes though, I would frequently browse my mother's cookbook collection. One day as I was thumbing through them I came across a book entitled "A Taste of Country Cooking" by Edna Lewis. I opened it up, intrigued by the cover and wound up reading the whole thing, as I would a novel, then and there. Reading her book was like stepping through a portal to another world; that of a lively, down-home southern family and their way of life 50 years ago. I was initiated into their methods of preparing, harvesting and cooking their food as well as the "rituals" that surround them.

One of my favorite things about "A Taste of Country Cooking" is the layout: it is divided by the different seasons and subdivided within those categories by meal (i.e. breakfast, dinner, supper). Because of this display style Lewis was able to relate intimate details of how food for that season was prepared; in that time the food people cooked depended largely on what was ripe in the garden and what kind of meat was available during that time of year etc.

A favorite section of mine is the one located in the spring section of her book when she relates how all the men in her community would gather together to slaughter their hogs; it was fascinating reading about that process, so many methods such as these have been lost over the generations. Her book captured a slice of a forgotten time and allowed me a glimpse into the past.

I used this cookbook for the first time when I was looking for a recipe for Johnny Cake (a sweet thin cornbread) because I couldn't find my mothers' recipe. I decided to alter the spoon bread recipe (since the ingredients were similar) and see if it could double for Johnny Cake as well. It turned out perfectly; in my eyes the mark of a good recipe is its versatility and hers more than met my criteria. Every recipe I've tried in "A Taste of Country Cooking" has been excellent. Her recipe for spoon bread when unaltered comes out just right: tangy (from the buttermilk), moist but not too dense, buttery without being overly rich; it's the perfect compliment to a dinner of pork roast or ham with fresh vegetable sides, her mother would probably have served green beans and new potatoes as an accompaniment.

My grandmother was the epitome of an old fashioned southern cook; she made fried okra, pork-chops, biscuits and gravy with tomatoes, purplehull peas, and

cornbread - in short if it was traditional old south she made it. Even though Edna Lewis and my grandmother came from different regions of the south (Virginia and Arkansas respectively) there are many similarities in the type of foods prepared and also the method of preparation. Edna Lewis's cook book "A Taste of Country Living" is full of authentic southern recipes, if you're interested in cooking old south or for the history in the book alone, I would recommend it as a worthy addition to your personal library.
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is a living document, a standard that should be on any American cookbook collection. Edna's style of writing can bring on tears of joy as she shares how life was for the citzens of Freetown. One the greatest strenghts of this book is the historical documentation of a rural town founded by freed slaves. I've cooked almost everything out of this book and found the receipes are acurate and down right beautiful! If you're a fan of Alice Water's Chez Panisse style, this book will not dissappoint. Edna uses the best of each season in her cooking style. This is true American food at its finest! The only people that might be dissappointed with this book would be vegans, this book deals with rural farming culture.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
After having purchased Miss Edna's book with Scott Peacock, I was sure I needed this one too - I was right! This book is a cookbook as well as a history book and provides great insight into a time forgotten by many. No you can't easily get hog jowls or some of the wild greens but you can take those concepts and apply them to today's ingredients. These recipes take me back to the simple but fabulous meals my grandmothers' and great aunts use to prepare from my childhood. I can still remember those tastes and how important the seasons were - the great expectations that autumn brought with it knowing the relatives would be coming up from 'Carolina' with the sweetest, crispest apples you could imagine or the popcorn made in the open fireplace as a treat while we cracked corn for the animals winter feed. All that and I was a City kid so imagine what it was like when you really lived that way every day. I didn't appreciate those recipes and the art of food preservation until it was too late - both grandmothers were gone but Miss Edna has provided some recipes and insight into those times. Her cookbooks provide a link to my past - a virtual hug and some very tasty comfort food.

If you're from the South,good cooking skills and between 50-60, I suggest you consider this book seriously. You don't want this food heritage to die.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I bought this book because i'm interested in the experiences, recipes and thoughts of such a well-traveled, Southern cook. I am not disappointed! The reading is enjoyable, the recipes delicious and the Southern "angle" to the recipes (maybe not healty; but, undoubtedly delicious) is worth the inexpensive price alone. It's like your grandma is telling you her wisdom and secrets; a vanishing breed--that's for sure. Buy it.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Think of deep-dish blackberry pie, thin sliced cucumbers in white vinegar dressing, and pound cake to cover with fresh fruit. This book takes us back to real Southern cooking in tune with the seasons. Doesn't your mouth water when you read about summer vegetable soup or wilted lettuce with hot vinegar dressing or blueberry cake with blueberry sauce. Those are the flavors of summer food in the south.

"This book was one of the first cookbooks by a black woman to reach a nationwide audience." (Lexington Herald-Leader)
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
I just received my book today and have been unable to put it down. This book is not only a feast of good food it is a feast for the soul.
Thank you Edna Lewis!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Edna- if I could have accomplished a fraction of what you have in my life, I would be thrilled. What an outstanding, down-to-earth sort of cook. I hope you have a great internet connection in heaven, and I hope they are letting you cook! None of her books are to be missed- at any price. Simple, but wonderful. Like so many others who I grew up with, who never recorded any of their recipes.... thank God for all of us you did.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is more than a cookbook. Each section describes the setting, purpose and the details about the ingredients used. It is a history book, too. Even 'tho we have quick and easy ingredients, Edna beleived in doing things from scratch and the fresher the product, the better. Wonderful reading. The Parker House rolls and the Sweet Potatoe Pie are awesome!!!
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